The paper reviews the grounds for relativist interpretations of Wittgenstein's later thought, especially in On Certainty . It distinguishes between factual and virtual forms of epistemic relativism and argues that, on closer inspection, Wittgenstein's notes don't support any form of relativism – let it be factual or virtual. In passing, it considers also so-called "naturalist" readings of On Certainty , which may lend support to a relativist interpretation of Wittgenstein's ideas, finds them wanting, and recommends to (...) interpret his positive proposal in On Certainty as a form of "internal rationalism.". (shrink)
Some relativists deny that moral discourse is factual. According to them, our ethical commitments are to be explained by appealing to noncognitive mental states like desires, rather than to beliefs in some independent moral facts. Indeed, the package antirealism (there are no moral properties) & noncognitivism (the source of moral commitments is noncognitive) seems to be implicit in Lewis’s and Harman’s relativism. But to many philosophers this package seems to be unattractive. Our task in this paper is to (...) construe and defend a less committal and hence more attractive version of relativism. Our thesis has two elements. First, we shall present a version of relativism that combines, on the one hand, realism with regard to thick ethical properties, and, on the other, antirealism with regard to thin ethical properties. Secondly, we shall argue that this version of relativism can be defended through the skeptical theory of meaning Kripke attributes to the later Wittgenstein. The paper comprises three parts: the first sketches in very broad lines a version of standard moral relativism. In the second part we construe an alternative version that we call ‘cultural relativism.’ By appealing to the thick-thin distinction, cultural relativists explain what it means to say of forms of life that they are in conflict. In the third part we shall elaborate an argument whose conclusion is that in ranking conflicting ethical outlooks, people make an error, that is, they attribute to these outlooks moral properties that do not exist. (shrink)
The relativist's central objection to contextualism is that it fails to account for the disagreement we perceive in discourse about "subjective" matters, such as whether stewed prunes are delicious. If we are to adjudicate between contextualism and relativism, then, we must first get clear about what it is for two people to disagree. This question turns out to be surprisingly difficult to answer. A partial answer is given here; although it is incomplete, it does help shape what the relativist (...) must say if she is to do better than the contextualist in securing genuine disagreement. (shrink)
I think that there are good reasons to adopt a relativist semantics for epistemic modal claims such as ``the treasure might be under the palm tree'', according to which such utterances determine a truth value relative to something finer-grained than just a world (or a <world, time> pair). Anyone who is inclined to relativise truth to more than just worlds and times faces a problem about assertion. It's easy to be puzzled about just what purpose would be served by assertions (...) of this kind, and how to understand what we'd be up to in our use of sentences like ``the treasure might be under the palm tree'', if they have such peculiar truth conditions. After providing a very quick argument to motivate a relativist view of epistemic modals, I bring out and attempt to resolve this problem in making sense of the role of assertions with relativist truth conditions. Solving this problem should be helpful in two ways: first, it eliminates an apparently forceful objection to relativism, and second, spelling out the relativist account of assertion and communication will help to make clear just what the relativist position is, exactly, and why it's interesting. (shrink)
Many philosophers, however, have been tempted to be relativists about speciﬁc domains of discourse, especially about those domains that have a normative character. Gilbert Harman, for example, has defended a relativistic view of morality, Richard Rorty a relativistic view of epistemic justiﬁcation, and Crispin Wright a relativistic view of judgments of taste.¹ But what exactly is it to be a relativist about a given domain of discourse? The term ‘‘relativism’’ has, of course, been used in a bewildering variety of (...) senses and it is not my aim to discuss each and every one of those senses here. Rather, what interests me is the notion that is characterized by the following core idea: the relativist about a given domain, D, purports to have discovered that the truths of D involve an unexpected relation to a parameter. (shrink)
The paper focuses on one central aspect of Karl Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge: his exemption of the contents of mathematics and the natural sciences from sociological investigations. After emphasizing the importance of Mannheim’s contribution and his exemption-thesis to the history and development of the field and the problem of relativism, I survey several interpretations of the thesis – especially those put forward by proponents of the so-called ‘Strong Programme’. I argue that these interpretations do not get the philosophical background (...) and impetus of Mannheim’s contribution right. By distinguishing between naturalistic and anti-naturalistic strands in Mannheim’s work I propose a new reading on which Mannheim did not exempt the contents of the areas in question principally or because of a lack of nerve and will. It is argued that Mannheim’s exemption-thesis rather is a consequence of his own sketchy sociological investigations of ‘the paradigm of the natural sciences’. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to examine the kind of evidence that might be adduced in support of relativist semantics of a kind that have recently been proposed for predicates of personal taste, for epistemic modals, for knowledge attributions and for other cases. I shall concentrate on the case of taste predicates, but what I have to say is easily transposed to the other cases just mentioned. I shall begin by considering in general the question of what kind of (...) evidence can be offered in favour of some semantic theory or framework of semantic theorizing. In other words, I shall begin with the difficult question of the empirical significance of semantic theorizing. In Sect. 2, I outline a relativist semantic theory, and in Sect. 3, I review four types of evidence that might be offered in favour of a relativistic framework. I show that the evidence is not conclusive because a sophisticated form of contextualism can stand up to the evidence. However, the evidence can be taken to support the view that either relativism or the sophisticated form of contextualism is correct. (shrink)
This paper argues against relativism, focusing on relativism based on the semantics of predicates of personal taste. It presents and defends a contextualist semantics for these predicates, derived from current work on gradable adjectives. It then considers metasemantic questions about the kinds of contextual parameters this semantics requires. It argues they are not metasemantically different from those in other gradable adjectives, and that contextual parameters of this sort are widespread in natural language. Furthermore, this paper shows that if (...) such parameters are rejected, it leads to an unacceptably rampant form of relativism, that relativizes truth to an open-ended list of parameters. (shrink)
Relativism entails that sentences like ‘Liquorice is tasty’ are used to assert relativistic propositions—that is, propositions whose truth-value is relative to a taste standard. I will defend this view against two objections. According to the first objection, relativism is incompatible with a Stalnakerian account of assertion. I will show that this objection fails because Stalnakerian assertions are proposals rather than attempts to update the common ground. According to the second objection, relativism problematically predicts that we can correctly (...) assess beliefs as false but faultless. I will show that it doesn't. Such assessments come out as incorrect because correct relativistic assertion requires the absence of a presupposition of non-commonality. (shrink)
This article brings together two sets of data that are rarely discussed in concert; namely, disagreement and testimony data. I will argue that relativism yields a much more elegant account of these data than its major rival, contextualism. The basic idea will be that contextualists can account for disagreement data only by adopting principles that preclude a simple account of testimony data. I will conclude that, other things being equal, we should prefer relativism to contextualism. In making this (...) comparative point, I will also defend self-standing relativist accounts of disagreement and testimony data. (shrink)
In this paper we discuss a phenomenon we call perspectival plurality, which has gone largely unnoticed in the current debate between relativism and contextualism about predicates of personal taste (PPTs). According to perspectival plurality, the truth value of a sentence containing more than one PPT may depend on more than one perspective (subjects, experiencers or judges). Prima facie, the phenomenon engenders a problem for relativism and can be shaped into an argument in favor of contextualism. We explore the (...) consequences of perspectival plurality in depth and assess several possible responses on behalf of advocates of relativism. (shrink)
I argue that relativists about evaluative language face some of the same objections as non-naturalists in ethics. If these objections have force, there is reason to doubt the existence of relative evaluative states of affairs. In they do not exist, then relativism leads to an error theory. This is unattractive, as the position was specifically designed to preserve the truth of many evaluative claims.
I attempt to rebut the following standard objections against cultural relativism: 1. It is self-defeating for a cultural relativist to take the principle of tolerance as absolute; 2. There are universal moral rules, contrary to what cultural relativism claims; 3. If cultural relativism were true, Hitler’s genocidal actions would be right, social reformers would be wrong to go against their own culture, moral progress would be impossible, and an atrocious crime could be made moral by forming a (...) culture which approves of it; 4. Cultural relativism is silent about how large a group must be in order to be a culture, and which culture we should follow when we belong to two cultures with conflicting moralities. (shrink)
This article explores the relationship between epistemic relativism and Pyrrhonian scepticism. It is argued that a fundamental argument for contemporary epistemic relativism derives from the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. Pyrrhonian scepticism is compared and contrasted with Cartesian scepticism about the external world and Humean scepticism about induction. Epistemic relativism is characterized as relativism due to the variation of epistemic norms, and is contrasted with other forms of cognitive relativism, such as truth relativism, conceptual (...)relativism and ontological relativism. An argument from the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion to epistemic relativism is presented, and is contrasted with three other arguments for epistemic relativism. It is argued that the argument from the criterion is the most fundamental argument for epistemic relativism. Finally, it is noted how the argument of the present paper fits with the author’s previous suggestion that a particularist response to the Pyrrhonian sceptic may be combined with a naturalistic view of epistemic warrant to meet the challenge of epistemic relativism. (shrink)
This book provides an analysis of the debate surrounding cultural diversity, and attempts to reconcile the seemingly opposing views of "ethical imperialism," the belief that each individual is entitled to fundamental human rights, and cultural relativism, the belief that ethics must be relative to particular cultures and societies. The author examines the role of cultural tradition, often used as a defense against critical ethical judgments. Key issues in health and medicine are explored in the context of cultural diversity: the (...) physician-patient relationship, disclosing a diagnosis of a fatal illness, informed consent, brain death and organ transplantation, rituals surrounding birth and death, female genital mutilation, sex selection of offspring, fertility regulation, and biomedical research involving human subjects. Among the conclusions the author reaches are that ethical universals exist, but must not be confused with ethical absolutes. The existence of ethical universals is compatible with a variety of culturally relative interpretations, and some rights related to medicine and health care should be considered human rights. Illustrative examples are drawn from the author's experiences serving on international ethical review committees and her travels to countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where she conducted educational workshops and carried out out her own research. (shrink)
This paper explores the relationship between scepticism and epistemic relativism in the context of recent history and philosophy of science. More specifically, it seeks to show that significant treatments of epistemic relativism by influential figures in the history and philosophy of science draw upon the Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. The paper begins with a presentation of the problem of the criterion as it occurs in the work of Sextus Empiricus. It is then shown that significant treatments of (...) epistemic relativism in recent history and philosophy of science (critical rationalism, historical philosophy of science and the strong programme) draw upon the problem of the criterion. It is briefly suggested that a particularist response to the problem of the criterion may be put to good use against epistemic relativism. (shrink)
The purpose of this present research is to expand upon the foundation that codes of ethics are more useful guides to managers in their behavior and decision-making when managers are more familiar with code content and intentions. We explore whether the impact of code familiarity on code usefulness differs: (a) under varying conditions of turbulence and (b) between persons with relativist versus idealist personal values. Data have been collected from a sample of 1700 executives in member companies of the U.S. (...) Direct Selling Association, and responses were received from 286 (16.8% returned). Perceptions of ethics code familiarity and usefulness decline as business turbulence increases. The decline in familiarity/usefulness was more pronounced for managers with a relativistic ethical orientation. (shrink)
Some philosophers, like Mark Richard and Paul Boghossian, have argued against relativism that it cannot account for the possibility of faultless disagreement. However, I will contend that the objections they moved against relativism do not target its ability to account for the possibility of faultless disagreement per se. Ra- ther, they should be taken to challenge its capacity to account for another element of our folk conception of disagreement in certain areas of discourse—what Cris- pin Wright has dubbed (...) parity. What parity demands is to account for the possibil- ity of coherently appreciating, within a committed perspective, that our oppo- nent’s contrary judgement is somehow on a par with our own judgement. Under- stood in this way, Boghossian’s and Richard’s objections put indeed considerable pressure on relativism—or so I will argue. I will consider John MacFarlane’s at- tempt to resist their objections and I will show that, once their arguments are properly understood as targeting parity, the attempt is not successful. In the last section of the paper I will offer a diagnosis of what is at the heart of the relativist inability to account for parity—namely its assumption of a monistic conception of the normativity of truth. (shrink)
I set out and defend a view on indicative conditionals that I call “indexical relativism ”. The core of the view is that which proposition is expressed by an utterance of a conditional is a function of the speaker’s context and the assessor’s context. This implies a kind of relativism, namely that a single utterance may be correctly assessed as true by one assessor and false by another.
This paper proposes a view on epistemic relativism that arises from the problem of the criterion, keeping in consideration that the assessment of criterion standards always occurs in a certain context. The main idea is that the epistemic value of the assertion “S knows that p” depends not only on the criterion adopted within an epistemic framework and the relationship between said criterion and a meta-criterion, but also from the collaboration with other subjects who share the same standards. Thus, (...) one can choose between particularist and methodist criteria according to the context of assessment. This position has the advantage of presenting a new perspective concerning both the criterion problem and the problem of inter-contextuality in the evaluation of different epistemic frameworks. (shrink)
In Foundations for Moral Relativism, J. David Velleman shows that different communities can indeed be subject to incompatible moralities, because their local mores are rationally binding. At the same time, he explains why the mores of different communities, even when incompatible, are still variations on the same moral themes. The book thus maps out a universe of many moral worlds without, as Velleman puts it, "moral black holes”. The five self-standing chapters discuss such diverse topics as online avatars and (...) virtual worlds, lying in Russian and truth-telling in Quechua, the pleasure of solitude and the fear of absurdity. Accessibly written, Foundations for Moral Relativism presupposes no prior training in philosophy. (shrink)
Ethics position theory (EPT) maintains that individuals’ personal moral philosophies influence their judgments, actions, and emotions in ethically intense situations. The theory, when describing these moral viewpoints, stresses two dimensions: idealism (concern for benign outcomes) and relativism (skepticism with regards to inviolate moral principles). Variations in idealism and relativism across countries were examined via a meta-analysis of studies that assessed these two aspects of moral thought using the ethics position questionnaire (EPQ; Forsyth, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (...) 39, 175–184, 1980). This review identified 139 samples drawn from 29 different countries, for a total sample of 30,230 respondents, and concluded that (a) levels of idealism and relativism vary across regions of the world in predictable ways; (b) an exceptionist ethic is more common in Western countries, subjectivism and situationism in Eastern countries, and absolutism and situationism in Middle Eastern countries; and (c) a nation’s ethics position predicted that country’s location on previously documented cultural dimensions, such as individualism and avoidance of uncertainty (Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, 1980). Limitations in these methods and concerns about the validity of these cross-cultural conclusions are noted, as are suggestions for further research using the EPQ. (shrink)
This paper is a response to an objection that Markus Seidel has made to my analysis of epistemic relativism. Seidel argues that the epistemic relativist is unable to base a relativist account of justification on the sceptical problem of the criterion in the way that I have suggested in earlier work. In response to Seidel, I distinguish between weak and strong justification, and argue that all the relativist needs is weak justification. In addition, I explain my reasons for employing (...) the idiom of objectivity rather than that of absolutism which Seidel prefers. -/- . (shrink)
Some Key Controversies in the Philosophy of Science Larry Laudan. the mouths of my realist, relativist, and positivist. (By contrast, there is at least one person who hews to the line I have my prag- matist defending.) But I have gone to some ...
I investigate the implication of the truth-relativist’s alleged ‘ faultless disagreements’ for issues in the epistemology of disagreement. A conclusion I draw is that the type of disagreement the truth-relativist claims to preserve fails in principle to be epistemically significant in the way we should expect disagreements to be in social-epistemic practice. In particular, the fact of faultless disagreement fails to ever play the epistemically significant role of making doxastic revision rationally required for either party in a disagreement. That the (...) truth-relativists’ disagreements over centred content fail to play this epistemically significant role that disagreements characteristically play in social epistemology should leave us sceptical that disagreement is what the truth-relativist has actually preserved. (shrink)
In some cases of disagreement it seems that neither party is at fault or making a mistake. This phenomenon, so-called faultless disagreement, has recently been invoked as a key motivation for relativist treatments of domains prone to such disagreements. The conceivability of faultless disagreement therefore appears incompatible with traditional realists semantics. This paper examines recent attempts to accommodate faultless disagreement without giving up on realism. We argue that the accommodation is unsatisfactory. However, the examination highlights that “faultless” is multiply ambiguous. (...) The more overarching purpose is to examine the consequences of this—more generally, how to think about faultless disagreement. (shrink)
Recent years have brought relativistic accounts of knowledge, first-person belief, and future contingents to prominence. I discuss these views, distinguish non-trivial from trivial forms of relativism, and then argue against relativism in all of its substantive varieties.
In the pair of articles of which this is the first, I shall present a set of problems and philosophical proposals that have in recent years been associated with the term “relativism”. All these problems and proposals concern the question of how we should represent thought and speech about certain topics. The main issue here is whether we should model such mental states or linguistic acts as involving representational contents that are absolutely correct or incorrect, or whether, alternatively, their (...) correctness should be thought of as varying with some (more or less surprising) factor. In this, first, article, I shall discuss the general issue of relativism about representational content. I shall claim that there are legitimate ways of attributing contents that are absolute truth-bearers, and there are also equally legitimate ways of attributing relativistic representational contents. In the companion piece “Relativism 2: Semantic Content”, I look in more detail at the more specific question whether semantic contents (i.e. the contents assigned to linguistic utterances in the semantics of natural language) should be construed in an absolutist or a relativist way. (shrink)
This paper revisits one of the key ideas developed in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In particular, it explores the methodological form of incommensurability which may be found in the original edition of Structure. It is argued that such methodological incommensurability leads to a form of epistemic relativism. In later work, Kuhn moved away from the original idea of methodological incommensurability with his idea of a set of epistemic values that provides a basis for rational theory choice, but do (...) not constitute an algorithm for such choice. The paper also explores the sceptical basis for the epistemic relativism of the original view that Kuhn proposes in Structure. It suggests that the main sceptical rationale for such relativism may be avoided by a particularist and naturalist conception of epistemic normativity. When this approach is combined with the appeal to external methodological standards endorsed by the later Kuhn and his critics, the epistemic relativism of Structure may be completely repudiated. (shrink)
In this paper I refute the chief arguments for cultural relativism, meaning the moral (not the descriptive) theory that goes by that name. In doing this I walk some oft-trodden paths, but I also break new ones. For instance, I take unusual pains to produce an adequate formulation of cultural relativism, and I distinguish that thesis from the relativism of present-day anthropologists, with which it is often conflated. In addition, I address not one or two, but eleven (...) arguments for cultural relativism, many of which contribute to its popularity but receive scant attention from its critics. To elicit the failings of these arguments I deploy a host of pertinent but often neglected distinctions. (shrink)
Some moral disagreements are so persistent that we suspect they are deep : we would disagree even when we have all relevant information and no one makes any mistakes. The possibility of deep disagreement is thought to drive cognitivists toward relativism, but most cognitivists reject relativism. There is an alternative. According to divergentism, cognitivists can reject relativism while allowing for deep disagreement. This view has rarely been defended at length, but many philosophers have implicitly endorsed its elements. (...) I will defend it. (shrink)
This chapter defends a version of the indexical contextualist form of moderate relativism: the attempt to endorse appearances of faultless disagreement within the framework in which a sentence at a context at the index of the context determines its appropriate truth-value. Many object that any such an indexical proposal would fail to account for intuitions of (genuine) disagreement as revealed in ordinary disputes in the domain. The defence from this objection exploits presuppositions of commonality to the effect that the (...) addressee is relevantly like the speaker of the context. (shrink)
A critical review of Paul Boghossian's Fear of Knowledge. I argue that the central argument against epistemic relativism fails and that even if the arguments of Fear of Knowledge worked perfectly on their own terms, Fear of Knowledge would fail to persuade the relativistically inclined.
Relativists about knowledge ascriptions think that whether a particular use of a knowledge-ascribing sentence, e.g., “Keith knows that the bank is open” is true depends on the epistemic standards at play in the assessor’s context—viz., the context in which the knowledge ascription is being as- sessed for truth or falsity. Given that the very same knowledge-ascription can be assessed for truth or falsity from indefinitely many perspectives, relativism has a striking consequence. When I ascribe knowledge to someone (e.g., when (...) I say that, at a particular time, “Keith knows that the bank is open”), what I’ve said does not get a truth-value absolutely, but only relatively. If this semantic thesis about the word “knows” and its cognates is true, what implications would this have for epistemology, the philosophical theory of knowledge? e present aim will be to engage with this mostly unexplored question, and then to consider how the epistemological conclusions drawn might bear on the plausibility of a relativist semantics for “knows”. (shrink)
It is argued that neither contextualism nor relativism can provide a satisfying semantics of knowledge ascriptions. According to contextualism, the truth conditions of knowledge ascriptions of the form “S knows that p” vary with the epistemic standards operative in the contexts of utterance. These epistemic standards are determined, in particular, by the speaker’s stakes with regard to p or the consideration of error-possibilities. It is shown that the absolute concept of utterance truth together with a knowledge rule of assertion (...) lead to certain unassertable truths in contextualism and to counterintuitive results with regard to certain cross-context knowledge ascriptions. Although utterance truth is relativized to contexts of assessment in relativist accounts of knowledge, relativism still makes inadequate semantic predictions. In particular, relativism runs into problems in cases where the context of assessment is lower than the context of utterance. It is finally argued that invariantist accounts, according to which the truth conditions of knowledge ascriptions do neither vary with the context of utterance nor the context of assessment, but are determined by objective features given in the situation in which the knowledge claim is made, are better suited for modelling the semantics of knowledge ascriptions. Besides the fact that stakes or the consideration of error-possibilities can have an influence on the belief in a proposition, they have no further bearing on the truth conditions of knowledge ascriptions. (shrink)
Content- relativism is a semantic theory that states that the content of an uttered sentence can vary according to some feature of an assessment context. This paper has two objectives. The first is to determine which features a motivational case for content- relativism would display – what would a good case for content- relativism look like? The second is to consider cases that appear to have the required features and evaluate their prospects as motivational cases. I identify (...) two varieties of motivational case for content- relativism : content interpretation and content enhancement. I conclude that only content enhancement cases are likely to motivate content- relativism. (shrink)
Moral relativism attracts and repels. What is defensible in it and what is to be rejected? Do we as human beings have no shared standards by which we can understand one another? Can we abstain from judging one another's practices? Do we truly have divergent views about what constitutes good and evil, virtue and vice, harm and welfare, dignity and humiliation, or is there some underlying commonality that trumps it all? These questions turn up everywhere, from Montaigne's essay on (...) cannibals, to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, to the debate over female genital mutilation. They become ever more urgent with the growth of mass immigration, the rise of religious extremism, the challenges of Islamist terrorism, the rise of identity politics, and the resentment at colonialism and the massive disparities of wealth and power between North and South. Are human rights and humanitarian interventions just the latest form of cultural imperialism? By what right do we judge particular practices as barbaric? Who are the real barbarians? In this provocative new book, the distinguished social theorist Steven Lukes takes an incisive and enlightening look at these and other challenging questions and considers the very foundations of what we believe, why we believe it, and whether there is a profound discord between "us" and "them.". (shrink)
The “ontological turn” is a recent movement within cultural anthropology. Its proponents want to move beyond a representationalist framework, where cultures are treated as systems of belief that provide different perspectives on a single world. Authors who write in this vein move from talk of many cultures to many “worlds,” thus appearing to affirm a form of relativism. We argue that, unlike earlier forms of relativism, the ontological turn in anthropology is not only immune to the arguments of (...) Donald Davidson’s “The Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme,” but it affirms and develops the antirepresentationalist position of Davidson’s subsequent essays. (shrink)
What I am calling New Age Relativism is usually proposed as a thesis about the truth-conditions of utterances, where an utterance is an actual historic voicing or inscription of a sentence of a certain type. Roughly, it is the view that, for certain discourses, whether an utterance is true depends not just on the context of its making—when, where, to whom, by whom, in what language, and so on—and the “circumstances of evaluation”—the state of the world in relevant respects—but (...) also on an additional parameter: a context of assessment. Vary the latter and the truth-value of the utterance can vary, even though the context of its making and the associated state of the world remain fixed. (shrink)
In the recent philosophy of language literature there is a debate over whether contextualist accounts of the semantics of various terms can accommodate intuitions of disagreement in certain cases involving those terms. Relativists such as John MacFarlane have claimed that this motivates adopting a form of relativist semantics for these terms because the relativist can account for the same data as contextualists but doesn’t face this problem of disagreement (MacFarlane 2005, 2007 and 2009). In this paper I focus on the (...) case of epistemic predicates and I argue that on a certain assumption about what is involved in assessing an utterance the epistemic contextualist can solve her problem of disagreement. This undercuts a motivation for epistemic relativism. (shrink)
This dissertation investigates the plausibility of metaethical relativism, or more specifically, what I call “moral truth-value relativism”: the idea that the truth of a moral statement or belief depends on who utters or has it, or who assesses it. According to the most prevalent variants of this view in philosophical literature – “standard relativism” – the truth-values are relative to people’s moralities, often understood as some subset of their affective or desirelike attitudes. Standard relativism has two (...) main contenders: absolutism – the view that the truth-values of moral statements and beliefs do not vary in that way – and non-cognitivism – the view that moral judgements do not have truth-values, since they express affective or desire-like attitudes rather than beliefs. Almost the entire dissertation concerns the plausibility of standard relativism in contrast to absolutism. Part 1 examines first the two main arguments for standard relativism: that it accounts for the connection between moral judgements and motivation (chapter 2), and for the prevalence of diversity of moral opinion (chapter 3). Then the most common objection is considered: that it is inconsistent with the existence of genuine moral disagreements (chapter 4). I argue that these arguments are inconclusive. Both relativism and absolutism can account for the features discussed. Part 2 focuses on the fact that different people have different strongly held intuitions about the relative or absolute nature of morality. I argue that given a common methodological approach in philosophy and metaethics, which takes such intuitions as evidence of correct analyses, this difference in intuitions suggests that neither a relativist nor absolutist analysis can be correct for everyone’s moral judgements. I argue that this result holds both given semantic internalism (chapter 6) and given semantic externalism (chapter 7). To get one single analysis of everyone’s moral judgements we would have to abandon the intuitionbased methodology. In chapter 8, however, I argue that we can maintain this methodology if we accept analysis pluralism, the view that different analyses hold for different people’s moral judgements. (shrink)
In the pair of articles of which this is the second, I present a set of problems and philosophical proposals that have in recent years been associated with the term “relativism”. These problems are related to the question of how we should represent thought and speech about certain topics. The main issue is whether we should model such mental states or linguistic acts as involving representational contents that are absolutely correct or incorrect, or whether, alternatively, their correctness should be (...) thought of as varying with some (more or less surprising) factor. In the first article, “Relativism 1: Representational Content”, I discussed the general issue of relativism about representational content. I argued for the conciliatory view that both relativist and absoutist conceptions of representational content can be legitimate. In the present continuation, I look in more detail at a special case of the general issue, namely the question of whether semantic contents, i.e. the contents assigned to linguistic utterances in the semantics of natural language, should be construed in an absolutist or in a relativist way. (shrink)
In this contribution, I explore the treatment that Plato devotes to Protagoras’ relativism in the first section of the Theaetetus (151 E 1–186 E 12) where, among other things, the definition that knowledge is perception is put under scrutiny. What I aim to do is to understand the subtlety of Plato’s argument about Protagorean relativism and, at the same time, to assess its philosophical significance by revealing the inextric¬ability of ontological and epistemological aspects on which it is built (...) (for this latter aspect, I refer to contemporary discussions of relativism, mainly to Margolis’ robust relativism). I then turn to Aristotle’s treatment of Protagoras’ relativism in Metaphysics Γ, sections 5 and 6, in order to show that Plato and Aristotle surprisingly share the same view as regards the philosophical content of Protagoras’ relativism (in doing so, I take position against the standard opinion among scholars that Plato and Aristotle understand Protagoras’ relativism in different, even incompatible, ways). What I ultimately aim to demonstrate is that Protagoras’ relativism, as understood by both Plato and Aristotle, is a coherent, even attractive, philosophical position. (shrink)
Although relativism may be said to be one of the oldest doctrines in philosophy, dating back to the teachings of Protagoras in the 5th century B.C., when it comes to contemporary philosophy, there is no consensus on what makes a view qualify as "relativist". The problem is particularly accute in metaethics, since most of the views that up to a decade ago were described as “relativist” would be more accurately described as "contextualist" or even “expressivist” in light of the (...) distinctions currenty drawn in philosophy of language and semantics. In this chapter, we distinguish two construals of relativism, developed in sections 2 and 3 respectively: the “metaphysical” construal, based on the idea that there is no single, absolute, universal morality, and the “semantic” construal, based on the idea that the truth value of moral claims is relative to a set of moral standards, or moral practices, or some other suitable parameter. Section 1 introduces the core relativist ideas in an informal way, and warns against possible misinterpretations. (shrink)
The paper explores the defence by the early sociologist of science Ludwik Fleck against the charge of relativism. It is shown that there are crucial and hitherto unnoticed similarities between Fleck’s strategy and the attempt by his contemporary Karl Mannheim to distinguish between an incoherent relativism and a consistent relationism. Both authors seek to revise epistemology fundamentally by reinterpreting the concept of objectivity in two ways: as inner- and inter-style objectivity. The argument for the latter concept shows the (...) genuine political background and intent of Fleck’s sociology of science and its ambition to relieve the cultural struggles of his time. (shrink)
This paper critically examines color relationalism and color relativism, two theories of color that are allegedly supported by variation in normal human color vision. We mostly discuss color relationalism, defended at length in Jonathan Cohen's The Red and the Real, and argue that the theory has insuperable problems.
Some authors have recently claimed that relativism about knowledge sentences accommodates the context sensitivity of our use of such sentences as well as contextualism, while avoiding the counterintuitive consequences of contextualism regarding our inter-contextual judgments, that is, our judgments about knowledge claims made in other contexts. I argue that relativism, like contextualism, involves an error theory regarding a certain class of inter-contextual judgments.